Year after year, new engines are introduced that produce more power than those that preceded it. Look no further than the SRT badge for proof. Yes, the technology going into these machines changes every second. But the fundamentals? That’s pretty unchanged. Engines work by drawing in air and fuel, compressing that air and fuel, igniting it, and then finally pushing the exhaust out of the cylinder to repeat the process. So, when we say small mods for power, we mean upgrades that are easy-to-install and will help enhance this age-old process. They don’t change the genetics of an engine; they simply make the ol’ beast’s job a little easier. And while on their own these upgrades may not seem like much, taken together they can spell BIG power and performance differences.
12 volts is enough to give you a good shock, but it’s not enough juice needed for ignition. Coils are used to take in low voltage and turn it into thousands of volts. Aftermarket coils will increase this voltage further, increasing performance and efficiency.
Older vehicles use one coil, while newer vehicles use coil packs—so it’s important to know what your vehicle is equipped with. Accel is a very popular and trusted manufacturer of aftermarket coils for both newer and older vehicles. The company’s Super Stock coil runs around $30 and coil packs for newer engines run around $200.
Running in the range of $200 for coils may raise some eyebrows but trust us, it’s well worth the investment.
Much like coils, ignition boxes work to optimize the ignition process. Primarily, they multiply spark. This isn’t to be confused with a boost in voltage, though. Rather than simply raising the power to a single spark, these systems work to provide multiple sparks during combustion. They are also capable of providing rev-limiting.
Both modern and classic vehicles will benefit from this upgrade, and MSD is the go-to brand to consider. Generally speaking, the price point of an ignition box is about $300.
Intake systems are responsible for transferring air and fuel to the engine. It’s important to note that where the air is drawn from and how the air is transferred both play a role in engine performance. On older cars, intake manifolds are the obvious choice; newer cars will use cold air intakes. Both cost about the same ($300-range) and both work on roughly the same concept. Regardless of the engine, the idea is to move air from the best source possible, as efficiently as possible.
Cold air intakes are pretty easy to choose, but older cars’ manifolds can be tricky. A good rule of thumb to follow is that single-plane intakes are for racing, while dual-plane are for street cars. K&N, AEM, Edelbrock, and Weiand are the names to call upon.
While upgrading headers require an extensive amount of work, making them more than a “small mod,” wrapping headers is a pretty cheap and easy upgrade. Yes, the heat wrap is a look that needs to grow on you, but sometimes you have to choose function over form.
Header wraps are designed to keep the heat of the exhaust out of the engine compartment. The cooler temperature in the engine bay is great for engine performance, as is keeping the heat in the exhaust system. Header wrap helps improve the scavenging characteristics of the headers, which also helps boost performance by reducing the amount of spent fuel left in the chamber.
But like all small mods for power, be careful where you source your upgrade material or product. Remember: you get what you pay for. Cheap price point means cheap quality, which means poor durability. DEI is a well-respected brand to consider. The company’s Titanium Exhaust Wrap, made from pulverized lava rock, withstands 1800˚F direct/2500˚F intermittent heat and is highly resistant to abrasions, oil spills, temperatures, and vibration breakdown. Prices range from around $20 to over $350, depending on the width and length of tape needed.
Upgrading the exhaust is a triple threat. First and foremost, it increases power and torque. Secondly, the selected materials can have a longer life span than the factory equipment. And most importantly, the exhaust note will change. For the easiest of installations, consider a cat-back exhaust system. These leave everything from the catalytic converters forward intact, and generally require only a simple bolt-on installation.
An aftermarket exhaust system usually starts at around $500, with Magnaflow being a clear leader in the market.
Throttle Body/Carb Spacers
This is a small and cheap upgrade, but worth mentioning. Changing and maximizing airflow into the intake manifold, throttle body spacers may only add an additional 2 or 3 horsepower. And while there remains a lot of stipulation among enthusiasts as to whether this mod actually does anything, I personally feel they do. That small boost in horsepower may not be much of a gain, but thrown into package, the contribution shouldn’t be neglected. Besides for a mod that costs $100 or less, the extra few ponies are always worth it.
Spark Plugs/Plug Wires
Amplifying the ignition system can be enhanced with the use of appropriate spark plug wires and spark plugs. If an older vehicle is equipped with an MSD box, you will need to upgrade plug wires that use RFI suppression. Additionally, if you upgrade plugs you will want them to burn at the right temperature. Hotter plugs can result in detonation, which makes for a poor running engine. You will want to take the time to ensure that the plug temperature is matched to the engine.
One of the easiest small mods for power is uploading an aftermarket tune with a computer programmer. All of these upgrades improve the engine’s potential, and a tuner will absolutely hone that potential into the best possible power. Hypermax and Diablo are just two of the many excellent aftermarket programmer companies on the market. The typical cost of a programmer runs around $300.
Share the Wealth
As Christmas barrels toward us, you may be thinking of giving the gift of more horsepower to the special gearhead in your life. On a wide spectrum, it really is hard to say which mod is best, as every engine will have its own unique weak points. This means that the effect a particular mod will have on one engine may not provide the same results on another. Although, if I had to pick the most generally appealing small mods for power, I’d say exhaust systems, ignition boxes, and computer programmers are probably the best gift ideas for your lovebird.